Is it really difficult to access the People’s Survival Fund?

by: Kairos Dela Cruz

On August 16, 2012 the Philippines passed its first legislated national climate fund dedicated to supporting the adaptation action plans of local governments. Many know it as the People’s Survival Fund (PSF) or Republic Act 10174, which amended the Climate Change Act of 2009, or RA 9729, by establishing a financing mechanism for local governments and communities that supports the development of and which rewards exemplar adaptation plans.

Two years after its passage, the challenge evolved into ensuring the inclusion of the PSF in the national budget. In 2013 and 2014, the national government allotted 500 million pesos for the Fund, but as an unprogrammed allocation. This meant mention of the Fund but without any actual money.

By 2015, however, directions changed. Congress chose to finally include a cash allocation of the amount of one billion pesos, which is stipulate by law. This year, the PSF received a further top-up of another billion pesos, increasing the total amount ready to be accessed by LGUs to two billion.

Despite pressure from increasing expressions of frustration from different groups, the Fund board, through the Fund Secretariat, chose – correctly, in our view – to refrain from hastily causing the approval of initial proposals from LGUs. As we’ve always maintained to the Board, in our position as civil society representative, enhancing access to the fund needs to be undertaken without compromising fiduciary standards. And because processes and procedures were still inadequate, it would have been folly to proceed with approving proposals, particularly because the Fund’s direct access modality remains new to the bureaucracy (and LGUs and even most NGOs working on climate change). In addition, the Climate Change Commission (which makes up the core of the Fund Secretariat) also found itself in the middle of a major transition, given the expiry by January 2016 of the terms of all previous commissioners (Sering, Alvarez and Saño). Lastly, it also became apparent that approvals, when made too close to the May elections, would unnecessarily generate unwelcome political noise. We have expressed frustration during a number of Board meetings over the pace of rule-making, which could be faster, but we have also likewise noted publicly that this frustration is also openly shared by the Board chair and likewise the head of the Fund Secretariat.

With the 2017 budget almost in the middle of deliberation, PSF will get most probably get another billion. This is a good sign, but observers should also expect some elements of the current debate to persist, at least until the first proposals are actually approved and more are considered for Board action.

What exactly is holding the PSF Board from actually approving more proposals? Are current requirements too stringent? Are there actual applications, i.e. is there actually demand to access the PSF? The first two  questions have been persistently raised by some NGOs that it now bothers me as I write this blog.  More than other sectors, NGOs need to pay attention to briefings, listen to discussions, keep themselves updated when updates are made.

What bothers me more – at the base of my discomfort – is the apparent automatic notion some hold that the PSF is just too difficult to access. I was even asked to comment on this during a sectoral meeting[1]. I find the question laughable. Accessing the PSF, a grant fund, is meant to be technical and to some extent difficult. The proponents, both local government and communities, have to test the precision of assessments of their vulnerabilities as well as the effectiveness of their proposed interventions before submitting their proposal. It is simply tough, rigorous work involving serious analytical exercises that many are still trying to learn how to do or how to do things better. It can be difficult but it is certainly far from impossible.

Finding the balance between access and fiduciary standards is hard. Development that considers climate impacts and projections is challenging. Changing the planning, disbursing, and implementing processes to accommodate direct access from local government and organizations is arduous.

So, is accessing the PSF really difficult?  Yes, it is, but it is right now not tougher than it needs to be.

[1] iCSC is the NGO representative to the PSF Board.  

Editor's Note:  Image used is not a property of iCSC.